Catalonia election tests Spanish unity

Sat Nov 24, 2012 6:11pm EST
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By Fiona Ortiz

BARCELONA, Spain (Reuters) - Voters in Spain's Catalonia region go to the polls on Sunday and are likely to elect a pro-independence leader who will test Spanish unity at a time of deep economic crisis.

Opinion polls show two-thirds of voters in this region on the French border will cast ballots for parties, both rightist and leftist, that want Catalan independence from Spain.

Catalan President Artur Mas will likely win re-election since his conservative Convergence and Union party is forecast to take a majority, some 62 to 64 seats, in the 135-seat regional assembly, or Parliament.

Frustration over high unemployment and a deep recession have fueled a separatist resurgence in Catalonia, where polls show that for the first time more than half of the people want to break away from Spain.

Many Catalans believe their economy would be more prosperous on its own, complaining that a high portion of their taxes go to the central government in Madrid.

Mas, who adopted the independence cause in September after a massive street demonstration, campaigned on a promise to hold a referendum on secession.

If he carries through with the pledge, it will put him on a collision course with Madrid, where Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will use the constitution to block a referendum.

"Catalonia has never faced elections this important," Mas said at a campaign rally this week. He told supporters he wanted to be the last president of Catalonia within Spain.   Continued...

Convergencia i Unio (CIU) party's candidate Artur Mas for Catalunya's regional government gestures during a meeting in Barcelona November 23, 2012. REUTERS/Albert Gea